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The 15 Days of the Chinese New Year

As mentioned in our article Western New Year vs. Chinese New Year, the Lunar New Year is the biggest and most important traditional holiday among the people of China and is commonly referred to as 春节 (chūn jié)  - Spring Festival. According to traditional Chinese customs, the curtains of 春节 (chūn jié)  officially open on the night of 除夕 (chú xī)  - New Year's Eve, and mark the beginning of five or six days of federal holiday. But Chinese people typically view the entire 15 days following 除夕 (chú xī)  as the New Year Festival, and so the celebratory activities continuously span from 除夕 (chú xī)  all the way to 正月十五 (zhēng yuè shí wǔ)  - the 15th day of the first lunar month.

It's also worth mentioning that since China covers a vast territory, there are some differences in customs and cultural norms between the various regions. But today we'll introduce how Chinese people generally celebrate the New Year across these 15 days.

除夕 (chú xī) 

New Year's Eve

The final day of the lunar year is the time when people in China 辞旧迎新 (cí jiù yíng xīn)  - bid farewell to the old and welcome the new. This is a very important day for everyone in China, and there are quite a few traditions that come with it. Some of the most commonly practiced include:
  • 穿新衣 (chuān xīn yī)  - wearing new clothing
  • 贴年红 (tiē nián hóng)  - hanging new year decorations
  • 挂灯笼 (guà dēng long)  - hanging lanterns
  • 敬祖先 (jìng zǔ xiān)  - paying respects to ancestors
  • 放鞭炮 (fàng biān pào)  - setting of firecrackers
  • 吃年夜饭 (chī nián yè fàn)  - eating New Year's Eve dinner, a.k.a. reunion dinner
  • 包饺子 (bāo jiǎo zi)  - making dumplings

Many of these traditions are symbolic of getting rid of the old and replacing them with the new, and welcoming the fresh start to life that comes with the New Year. When the evening arrives, families come together in their homes and take part in 年夜饭 (nián yè fàn),  a huge feast with the best delicacies and drinks that they can muster, while they share with each other the highlights from their lives in the past year. After the reunion dinner, the older generation will give the children 压岁钱 (yā suì qián)  - lucky money, and there's no shortage of 红包 (hóng bāo)  - red envelopes. 压岁钱 (yā suì qián)  is given to children to signify a wish for their peace and happiness, as well as an expression of love and care. It's also a very important New Year's tradition to 守岁 (shǒu suì)  - stay up until midnight to welcome the New Year.

正月初一 (zhēng yuè chū yī) 

The 1st Day of the 1st Lunar Month

In celebration of the arrival of the new spring, once the night of New Year's Eve has passed the air is filled with the sound and smoke of firecrackers.

On the morning of 初一 (chū yī)  - the first day, people will wake up early and open up wide the doors to their home. This is called 开门大吉 (kāi mén dà jí)  and is believed to be a way to open up one's home to all the good fortune of the new year. They will then immediately set off firecrackers in order to send off the old and welcome in the new.

After breakfast, people will then 拜年 (bài nián)  - pay their New Year visits to family and friends, sharing well-wishes with each other. Here are a few common phrases you might hear people exchange while they 拜年 (bài nián): 
  • 恭喜发财 (gōng xǐ fā cái)  - may you have good fortune and prosperity
  • 万事如意 (wàn shì rú yì)  - may everything be as you wish
  • 身体健康 (shēn tǐ jiàn kāng)  - may you have health to your body

正月初二 (zhēng yuè chū èr) 

The 2nd Day of the 1st Lunar Month

On 初二 (chū èr),  in most northern areas of China, married daughters will bring their husbands back to visit their parents, so this day is referred to as 迎婿日 (yíng xù rì)  - the day to welcome the son-in-law. On this day, the visiting daughters will bring presents and 红包 (hóng bāo)  - red envelopes - to give to the children still living in the home and share lunch with the family. But they quickly return home to their husband's family for dinner.

正月初三 (zhēng yuè chū sān) 

The 3rd Day of the 1st Lunar Month

Traditionally speaking, 初三 (chū sān)  is also known as 赤狗日 (chì gǒu rì)  - Red Dog Day, since legend says that this is a day of frequent quarrel and conflict. In hopes of avoiding such disputes, people would typically stay home and 祭祀神明 (jì sì shén míng)  - offer sacrifices to the Gods. But such traditions have since faded and become obsolete, as most people no longer hold such beliefs and enjoy getting together for celebrations.

正月初四 (zhēng yuè chū sì) 

The 4th Day of the 1st Lunar Month

According to traditional Chinese lore, five or six days before 除夕 (chú xī)  all the gods return to heaven to give their report to 玉帝 (yù dì)  - the Jade Emperor - on what all transpired in the mortal realm that year. There's a Chinese saying that goes: 送神早,接神迟 (sòng shén zǎo, jiē shén chí)  - send the gods early, receive them later. It means that people should worship the gods and send them off to heaven early on that day in order to make sure they get a good seat for reporting to the Jade Emperor, thus bringing them greater blessings for the year to come; but when 初四 (chū sì)  comes and the gods return back to the mortal realm to begin their work of watching the humans, people should give them a little more time to relax and hold off on worshipping to receive them back until later in the day. Since there's lots of cooking going on during the New Year celebrations, 初四 (chū sì)  is mainly dedicated to worshipping 灶神 (zào shén)  - the Kitchen God - and welcoming him back among the people. It's also interesting to note that if a boss wants to fire one of their employees, colloquially referred to as as 炒魷魚 (chǎo yóu yú)  - frying the squid, then the boss wonʻt invite them to participate in the 接神 (jiē shén)  - receiving of the gods - ceremony on this day. If this happens the employee knows without a doubt that it's time to clear out their things and leave.

正月初五 (zhēng yuè chū wǔ) 

The 5th Day of the 1st Lunar Month

Chinese tradition has it that 初五 (chū wǔ)  is the birthday of 五路财神 (wǔ lù cái shén)  - the Five Gods of Wealth, and thereby is a day to welcome these gods into one's home to ensure the family receives wealth and prosperity in the coming year. On this day, people will get up in the early morning and set off firecrackers in a special way. They line up the strings of firecrackers to go off in the direction away from the house, and as they set them off they walk outwards as well. This is seen as a way to blow all bad fortune away from the home. They also deep clean the house, getting rid of all the trash and junk that they've accumulated across the previous days of festivities that are then seen as unlucky. Because of this, 初五 (chū wǔ)  is also known as 送穷日 (sòng qióng rì)  - the day to get rid of poverty. This day has one more name as well: 破五 (pò wǔ),  since this day also marks the end of the taboos that are held during the first few days of the New Year. It's also traditional for people in Northern China to eat lots of 饺子 (jiǎo zi)  - dumplings! They look similar to the gold money boats used in ancient times, so Chinese people have the superstition that the more dumplings you eat during Spring Festival, the more money you'll make that year!

正月初六 (zhēng yuè chū liù) 

The 6th Day of the 1st Lunar Month

初六 (chū liù)  in some areas is seen as a day to 送穷神 (sòng qióng shén)  - get rid of the spirits/gods of poverty. There are a wide variety of ways to say it, and accompanying customs, but the tradition of the unlucky spirits and gods of poverty are a very unique and interesting aspect of traditional Chinese culture. On 初六 (chū liù),  or 初五 (chū wǔ)  in some areas, everyone must throw out the garbage and junk that they accumulated during the festivities of the previous few days, and deep clean their homes. This reflects the overall idea that Chinese people have of 辞旧迎新 (cí jiù yíng xīn)  - getting rid of the old and welcoming in the new during this time of year.

初六 (chū liù)  is also known as 启市日 (qǐ shì rì)  - the day that businesses re-open. This is met with yet more firecrackers, rivaling what one might hear on 除夕 (chú xī)!  In the following sections we'll provide a simple explanation of the traditions between 初七 (chū qī)  and 正月十五 (zhēng yuè shí wǔ)  - the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. It's worth nothing that nowadays these traditions are mostly antiquated and only observed by people in very few area, but in their hearts Chinese people still see this time as a continuation of the Spring Festival.

正月初七 (zhēng yuè chū qī) 

The 7th Day of the 1st Lunar Month

Legend says that 初七 (chū qī)  is the day that people were first created by the heavens, the birthday of humankind, and was once called 人日 (rén rì).  人日 (rén rì)  is an ancient holiday, with a history of over 2,000 years! People of most areas would 吃长面 (chī cháng miàn)  - eat long noodles. It symbolized the belief that after 人日 (rén rì),  one can no longer rest and must work hard to prepare for spring farming.

正月初八 (zhēng yuè chū bā) 

The 8th Day of the 1st Lunar Month

初八 (chū bā)  is traditionally believed to be the birthday of rice, and is called 顺星节 (shùn xīng jié)  -  Shunxing Festival. If weather on this day is clear, it indicates that the rice harvest will be abundant in the coming year. Some businesses will choose to open on this day, since 八 (bā)  sounds like 发 (fā)  from 发财 (fā cái)  - to make a fortune.

初八 (chū bā)  is also a day that people would set their captive animals free. This not only shows how the ancient people of China valued living in harmony with nature, but also shows how they held the beautiful wish that every creature on Earth would thrive and flourish in the coming year.

正月初九 (zhēng yuè chū jiǔ) 

The 9th Day of the 1st Lunar Month

初九 (chū jiǔ)  was believed to be the birthday of 玉皇大帝 (yù huáng dà dì)  - the Great Jade Emperor. On this day the people of ancient China would set out candles and worship the heavens, praying for the gods to bless them with good weather for the crops, peace and health. They would also typically hold a large feast to celebrate.

正月初十 (zhēng yuè chū shí) 

The 10th Day of the 1st Lunar Month

初十 (chū shí)  was considered to be the birthday of stone. On the evening of 初九 (chū jiǔ),  people would place a pottery jar onto a flat, smooth slab of rock to freeze. Then, on the morning of 初十 (chū shí),  they fasten rope around the nose of the jar, after which ten young men would take turns lifting it. If the rock did not fall, it signified an abundant harvest in the year ahead. In the southern regions, there is also a custom of lighting lanterns and having lantern-lighting banquets.

正月十一 (zhēng yuè shí yī) 

The 11th Day of the 1st Lunar Month

正月十一 (zhēng yuè shí yī)  is the day that fathers would hold a banquet for their sons-in-law. Typically there was lots of left over food from the celebratory feast of 初九 (chū jiǔ),  even after what was eaten on 初十 (chū shí).  So the fathers would use this surplus food to entertain their sons-in-law, referred to in folk songs as 十一请子婿 (shí yī qǐng zǐ xù). 


(zhēng yuè shí èr zhì zhēng yuè shí sì)

The 12th-14th Days of the 1st Lunar Month

After 正月十一 (zhēng yuè shí yī),  people start to prepare to celebrate 元宵节 (yuán xiāo jié)  -  Lantern Festival. On 正月十二 (zhēng yuè shí èr),  people start to buy lanterns and build lantern sheds. There's a children's rhyme that says:

十一嚷喳喳 (shí yī rǎng chā chā) 

eleven, commotion and chatter

十二搭灯棚 (shí èr dā dēng péng) 

twelve, build the lantern sheds

十三人开灯 (shí sān rén kāi dēng) 

thirteen, people light the lanterns

十四灯正明 (shí sì dēng zhèng míng) 

fourteen, the lanterns are truly bright

十五行月半 (shí wǔ xíng yuè bàn) 

fifteen, carry out the half-month day

十六人完灯 (shí liù rén wán dēng) 

sixteen, people extinguish the lanterns

正月十五 (zhēng yuè shí wǔ) 

The 15th Day of the 1st Lunar Month

正月十五 (zhēng yuè shí wǔ)  is actually a very important holiday for China: 元宵节 (yuán xiāo jié)  - Lantern Festival. Ever since ancient times, the main celebration of 元宵节 (yuán xiāo jié)  has been to light and watch lanterns. Other significant traditions on this day include:
  • 吃汤圆 (chī tāng yuán)  - eating glutinous rice balls
  • 猜灯谜 (cāi dēng mí)  - solving lantern riddles
  • 放烟花 (fàng yān huā)  - setting off fireworks
And in many areas there are traditional folk performances displaying:
  • 游龙灯 (yóu lóng dēng)  - swimming dragon lanterns
  • 舞狮子 (wǔ shī zi)  - dancing lions
  • 踩高跷 (cǎi gāo qiāo)  - stilt walking
  • 划旱船 (huá hàn chuán)  - land boat paddling
  • 扭秧歌 (niǔ yāng ge)  - doing the Yangko dance
  • 打太平鼓 (dǎ tài píng gǔ)  - playing the Taiping drums
These boisterous celebrations make it seem like Chinese New Year has only just begun!

Speaking of 猜灯谜 (cāi dēng mí)  - solving lantern riddles, here's one that we've prepared for our friends that are learning Chinese characters. See if you can figure it out yourself!

Guess a Chinese character based on the number “99.”

We'll reveal the answer at the end of our upcoming blogpost: Chinese Lantern Riddles - A Fun Challenge for Hanzi Learners!